Separation anxiety affects around 50% of puppies in the UK (latest research shows) and it is not a condition that dogs “grow out of”. If left untreated, separation anxiety may develop into other behaviour conditions – as well as the anxiety, your dog may become prone to aggression and anxiety in other areas of their life. They may struggle to adapt to new environments and everyday situations on top of their existing anxiety about being left alone.
It is true that around 90% of puppies would prefer to be with their human parents. Meaning that it is not natural for them to be separated from their family or “pack”. And so it is our role as human parents to help our dogs and puppies adapt and cope with human absense.
It is not natural for dogs to be left on their own inside four walls for long periods of time. And even more unnatural for them to be separated from their pack. As a ballpark, try to make sure your dog is not left alone for more than 4 hours at a time and if they suffer from anxiety this needs to be addressed before they can be left alone at all.
Separation anxiety is a common behaviour issue in dogs but it has also become a catch-all phrase for many different types of anxiety our dogs could be suffering from. It is therefore very important to get the diagnosis right.
Sometimes, the anxiety your dog could be suffering from is lack of stimulation, exercise and boredom, so make sure to tick all the boxes in terms of walking them before leaving the house, allowing them access to toileting during the day, leaving enrichment toys for them to play with while you are out and collect video footage to see how they are reacting to your absence.
Get yourself a small tripod and leave your phone on video in their room for a few minutes as you step out. If you feel there is a problem, invest in a more suitable pet monitoring camera or even the Dog Monitor app which costs £5 and you can link between your phone and a tablet device. There are a couple of dog monitoring cameras suggested at the end of this post.
Intuitively though, most dog parents know when there is something more seriously wrong…
If you already have video footage of your dog when they are home alone or in a room separate to you then I am guessing it is quite difficult to watch the emotions they are going through. Emotions such as, panic, anxiety, distress, loneliness and grieving for your loss.
Dog barking, howling or crying for long periods of time is an indicator of separation anxiety as are destructive behaviours and even self harm which occurs in more severe cases. However, all dogs are individuals and how one dog expresses their anxiety is different to another and you may find that your dog deals with their emotions by internalising their stress and becoming depressed. This is a lot harder to identify as separation anxiety. Saliva swabs from dogs who seem to be coping well with being left alone can have as high cortisol (stress hormone) as dogs who are barking, howling and destroying the furniture!
Separation anxiety is treatable and please consult a professional dog behaviourist or email me to arrange a consultation: firstname.lastname@example.org
I also offer an online course for Separation Anxiety nationwide which involves virtual face-to-face video calls, written material and test papers to track your progress with regular text message support and feedback to advance the training once your dog is ready to move to the next stage. It is £40/hour for consultations online. You can email Nicky to find out more email@example.com
A treatment plan will mean a big commitment from you as a parent but it is worth it to give your dog a chance at a happy life and you the freedom to also lead a happy life knowing your dog can cope when you cannot be there.
During the initial training stages you will need to arrange for your dog to be with someone 24/7 so that the situation is not made worse. Get family and relations to help dog sit, ask help from neighbours, a trusted dog sitter, take your dog to work with you (if possible).
To give us a chance to rahabilitate the dog he/she must not experience the self-perpetuating panic feelings of being left alone. They need to start to feel safe and secure at all times. Even the training itself will involve someone in the room with them at all times to begin with, while you start to get them used to being calm. This progresses to one member of the family leaving the room and the other member(s) teach the dog how to sit and stay calm on their bed. Other exercises involve asking your dog to sit and wait and be genuinely calm while you are at a distance from them in the room.
A full program of rehabilitation should be tailored to the individual dog and their level of separation anxiety and so I cannot write down what exactly this program will be. The stages are firstly to help your dog to feel secure on their own bed with the human in the room and then outside the room but still in sight until very slowly you are out of sight for a few seconds and build distance and time incremently. Eventually we get to the door and leaving for a couple of seconds, again building this at your dogs’ pace. The detailed steps within each stage are important to follow. And missing a stage out is where humans often fail at the program. This is why I offer my clients WhatsApp and SMS support in between sessions.
What I would like to give in this post, are some suggestions of the tools we use to help a dog feel comfortable in their own company. We call these tools Enrichment toys. And below are some of my clients and some of my dog’s pals who list their favourite enrichment games and toys to keep them busy and free from boredom at the very least. A dog with separation anxiety will need a programme in place to introduce these toys and games in an effective manner and as part of the wider training. The enrichment alone is unlikely to resolve a genuine separation anxiety case.
Enrichment toys and games for dogs who suffer from a variety of conditions such as, boredom, frustration intolerance, low impulse control to issues such as separation anxiety.
Enrichment suggestions from some very clever dogs:
Rex the miniature (not so mini) schnauzer:
Rex suffers from moderate separation anxiety and these are his favourite toys while he stays out of sight of his human parents.
-Starch chews from Wilkos (star fish and turtle shapes)
-Bob-a-lot treat dispenser
-Trixie memory trainer
Merlin the cavalier king charles and his suggestions:
Merlin (my dog) is learning to spend time on his own while mummy writes this blog and these are his favourite games and toys:
-hide the biscuit around the room game
-hide liver treats in my bee and squirrel toy dens
-kong filled with delicious food and frozen to really increase my licking time
–snuffle mat (google to find out more)
-muffin tin game (google to find out more)
-pigs ears (the 100% natural ones)
-Mozart music to calm (research shows how MOZART is used for children who experience seizures to help calm them)
-Animal grade lavender oil which has been proven to lower heart rate and is said to help calm dogs who suffer from anxiety (to find out more see my online course on Emotional remedies and how to apply them ) You can buy lavender oil from www.doterra.com
Kobi the pug
has some generalised anxiety and his preferred toys and games include something else very special. A dog massage!
To help to release the anxiety he is storing within his musculo-skeletal system. Google the latest research findings on the link between emotional distress and musculo-skeletal problems in dogs…
Here I am demonstrating dog massage on Kobi in his consultation. To learn dog massage for your babe, you can come to one of my workshops or learn with me face-to-face over Skype/Facetime or Whatsapp by taking my online dog massage course.
To follow Kobi and Lizzie pugs and their parents visit instagram @kobi_pug
Sonny the sprocker who destroys indestructable toys
Sonny’s favourite activity to keep him occupied and that he hasn’t chewed through is this blue toy from Home Bargains…
And a kong filled with delicious frozen food and because he chews through things, his mum is opting for the black indestructable Extreme Kong!
Other indestructable enrichment toys can be found by asking on the facebook group Canine Enrichment
Elmo the frenchie says his mum has made a great find!
The Trixie Strategie-Spiel, Turn Around Place treats inside and your dog will have loads of fun!
Buddy and Georgie much loved bichons:
love “find it” looking for treats in the garden or undoing a tea towel with a treat wrapped inside.
This one below uses baby building blocks inside a basket, which they have to remove to lick the treat smeared inside.
This one involves a bit of peanut butter/cheese and vegetables frozen in silicone ice cube trays.
And a homemade version of a treat in a bottle!
And treats hidden in a basket, layered within a cushion, a bed and with a knotted towel underneath so they have to remove every piece before they find all the treats!
Buddy and Georgie’s mum Annette Price adds that if you have more than one dog “I’ve trained them to do it on their own mat so they see that almost as their “exclusion zone” so there’s less interference if one finishes first.” If you are visiting or live in Cardiff get yourself over to her Four Paws Deli for delicious and nutritious dog foods and treats.
Bugg the Frenchie, when he doesn’t have a rope toy in his mouth he is licking up CBD oil in his bowl of food.
CBD oil helps to rebalance a dog’s emotional state and can help to reduce any pain conditions which might be underlying anxiety issues. You can find out more information at www.daiba.uk
Or follow Bugg and Daisy on Instagram @daisy86smith
Ollie the Old English Sheepdog (aka Instagram: @oliver_fluffymonster) has some noise fears and anxiety around large trucks and puppies. He loves the Nina Ottoman’s range of puzzle toys for highly intelligent dogs. Even his girlfriend loves to play on their dates 😊 Oliver and mum signed up to my worldwide online program and video call sessions
Oreo the Bichon
He loves his cuddly toys but a chew root he will spend hours chewing on it says mum Dee.
Chew roots are 100% natural tree roots and great for dogs teeth
Jack the Jack Russell
belongs to Amanda Fenwick who has built her dog store around him and his love for toys such as the sniff and snack ball and mat. You can find all sorts of handmade enrichment toys and even ask for tailor made items from Jack’s Wardrobe.
Skye the cavalier king charles spaniel is Merlin’s first best friend. They love each other. Skye says that he loves his cuddly bunny toy when he stays at his grandmas as it smells of his mum and human brother George.
Jasper the retriever loves watching television to keep him occupied. But whilst he enjoys seeing dogs on TV make sure your dog enjoys the content
Hugo the bichon loves to play all day but he tears the stuffing out of his cuddlies! SO mum Jussy buys him many different shaped kongs from the KONg catalogue